LARSON REPORT

WEEKLY NEWSLETTER



 

 

October 23, 2013

     

 
















 

 

 

 


 

 


CONTACT ME


Please feel free to contact me with any concerns or opinions you might have.

Office Phone: (608) 266-7505
Toll-free Phone: (800) 361-5487

Email:
Sen.Larson@legis.wi.gov

 

Mailing Address:

State Capitol
P.O. Box 7882
Madison, WI 53707

 

Web Site:

SenatorChrisLarson.com

 

Find Me on Facebook and Twitter:

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

COMMUNITY EVENTS
 

Supporting our neighbors and being involved in our community is of the utmost importance. Some community events that might be of interest to you and your family are listed below. 
 

 

21st Annual Dia de los Muertos Exhibition

Date: Now through Sat., November 16

Location: Milwaukee

Description: This October marks 21 years of the Walker's Point Center of the Arts celebrating Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), a rich Mexican tradition. Curated by local art historian Juan Lopez, this traditional celebration will include a touch of contemporary flavor with ofrendas (altars/offerings) created by local artists of various backgrounds in addition to sculpture and 2-D work related to the holiday. Dia de los Muertos recognizes death as a celebration of life. It reminds one to reflect on what they value through the commemoration of loved ones and their lives, while at the same time generating enthusiasm for the friends and family around us. As the celebration progresses, this dynamic gathering of people transforms itself into a festivity of life. Informational tours and culturally relevant crafts for kids are available during the course of this exhibition. The opening reception will be held on Friday, October 18 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. CLICK HERE for more information.

Walker's Point Center for the Arts (MAP)
839 S. 5th Street
Milwaukee, WI 53204

 

 

Co/exist: New Sensibilities in Collage
Date: Now through Sat., December 7

Location: Milwaukee

Description: Explore contemporary approaches to collage as informed by the digital realm and a shift in the definition and cultural boundaries of art. CLICK HERE for more information.

Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MAP)
273 E. Erie Street
Milwaukee, WI 53202

 

 

15th Annual Milwaukee Short Film Festival

Date: Fri., October 25 and Sat., October 26
Description: The Longest running Milwaukee film festival that supports Milwaukee filmmakers is back. This event features award-winning films, international films, and stellar local films. In two days, 50 films will be played for audiences. CLICK HERE for more information.

Milwaukee Art Museum (MAP)
700 N. Art Museum Drive
Milwaukee, WI 53202

 

 

500 Clown Frankenstein
Date: Sat., October 26 at 7:30 p.m.

Location: South Milwaukee

Description: 500 Clown uses action-based performance, improvisation, and circus arts to enact long-form dramatic stories that involve both physical and emotional risk. Frankenstein features three performers who are charged with a task: "make monster." Bound in elaborate Edwardian costumes, the trio embarks on a journey to construct Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory while they struggle and battle through acrobatic feats. A tale of doctor and monster is told from scraps of the classic novel and Hollywood versions, inviting audience involvement throughout. CLICK HERE for more information or to purchase tickets.
 

South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center (MAP)

901 15th Avenue

South Milwaukee, WI 53172

 

 

Romeo & Juliet
Date: Thurs., October 31 through Sun., November 3

Location: Milwaukee

Description: When a story is retold as often as Romeo & Juliet, how it is told is of utmost importance. And nobody tells a story quite like Milwaukee Ballet.
This interpretation of the doomed lovers caught between feuding families
forgoes prose for poses and couplets for choreography. Through movement and the live performance of Prokofiev's score, the dancers convey
everything from infatuation to epic heartbreak. To witness them is to feel everything right along with them. CLICK HERE for more information.

Marcus Center for the Performing Arts (MAP)
929 N. Water Street
Milwaukee, WI 53202

 

 

7th Annual Turkish Film Festival
Date: Fri., November 1 through Sun., November 3

Location: Milwaukee

Description: Enjoy the Turkish Film Festival that is screened at the UW-Milwaukee Union
Theatre. Admission is free of charge and is open to public. CLICK HERE for more information

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (MAP)
2200 E. Kenwood Blvd.
Milwaukee, WI 53201

 

Dear Friend,

 

In response to concerns expressed by neighbors who participated in the higher education survey or attended the College Affordability Tour, I have signed onto legislation to help make higher education more affordable in Wisconsin. Continue reading for more on this and other important issues including Walker-created ghost jobs, helping neighbors with disabilities find employment, and pending Hoan Bridge construction.


Sincerely,

Chris Larson
State Senator, District 7

 

 

Increase Higher Education Affordability

Over the years, exponential increases in tuition and fees coupled with challenging economic times have made it nearly impossible for students to work their way through school, as was commonplace in the past. While 45% of 1992-93 bachelor's degree graduates borrowed money from the government, private loan providers, or family, according to a recent U.S. Department of Education survey, approximately two-thirds of 2007-08 bachelor's degree graduates borrowed money from the government or private lenders (family loans were not considered in this figure). In fact, the U.S. recently surpassed $1 trillion in outstanding student loans, with nearly 40 million Americans holding approximately $1.2 trillion in student loan debt nationally, meaning the average per person debt totals about $30,000.

 

Unfortunately, Wisconsin is not faring much better than the national trend. According to the U.S. Federal Reserve System there are 753,000 Wisconsin residents with federal student loan debt (this does not include those with private student loan debt). Further, college tuition costs have doubled over the last 12 years and Wisconsin's student loan borrowers have an average debt of $22,400. It is estimated that Wisconsin residents paying student loans from obtaining a bachelor's degree are currently paying an average of $388 per month for about 18.7 years.

 

Student debt is the only kind of household debt that continued to rise through the Great Recession, and is now the second largest consumer debt in our country, more than credit cards or auto loans. Having this money tied up in debt is a huge drain on our already struggling Wisconsin economy as the money spent on student loans could instead be spent on cars, new homes, and at local businesses in our communities.

 

Higher Education Survey Results Are In

Because higher education affordability has been a hot topic in our state and nationally, I created a survey recently to hear your thoughts on higher education affordability. This was a great opportunity for me to hear about the personal experiences of neighbors with regards to higher education and the resulting debt.

 

Overall, 132 people responded with their perspective and personal experience regarding higher education affordability. The results of this survey have been calculated, although some of the survey responses were unable to be tabulated due to their open-ended format. As you review the results, please keep in mind that the survey was not scientific. I invited anyone that subscribes to the Larson Report to participate and also made the survey available on my Web site. Below are the results I found to be the most significant:

  • 90% of survey respondents attended a higher education institution for at least three years.

  • 42% of survey respondents graduated with less than $10,000 in student debt, 18% of respondents graduated with between $10,000 and $20,000 in student debt, 7% graduated with between $20,001 and $30,000 in student debt, and 11% graduated with more than $30,000 in student debt. (22% of respondents were not applicable having either not obtained student loan debt, or not graduated from a higher education institution.)

  • There was a correlation between the amount of debt a respondent incurred and the year they graduate from school. Those that graduated before 1990, were more likely to have incurred less than $10,000 in student debt, whereas those that graduated after 1990 were more likely to have incurred more than $10,000 in student debt.

  • Very few survey respondents were able to attend a higher education institution without assistance. About 50% of those that attended a higher education institution received help from their parents, other family members, or guardians. Additionally, about 69% of those that attended a higher education institution received assistance in the form of financial aid or private loans. Finally, more than 82% of those that attended a higher education institution worked part-time, full-time, or both during this time to help put them through school.

  • 90% of survey respondents believe higher education is necessary for prosperity in today's economy.

  • 91% of survey respondents believe that there is not enough being done to make higher education affordable.

  • Survey respondents believe that lowering tuition, lowering interest rates, and increasing financial aid options (in that order) would be the most helpful in making higher education more affordable.

Thank you to everyone that took the time to share your thoughts and personal stories regarding higher education affordability. These responses were very helpful in determining how to move Wisconsin forward on this important issue.

 

Proposal to Increase Higher Education Affordability Circulated

Some issues related to student loans can only be dealt with at the federal level. Unfortunately, Congress' current partisan gridlock leaves little hope for real relief for student loan borrowers in the near future. We cannot wait for Congress to act. It is time for innovative, common sense solutions that will provide real relief for Wisconsin's student loan borrowers.

 

According to survey respondents, lowering interest rates is one of the most helpful ways we can work together to make higher education more affordable in Wisconsin. Therefore, I have signed onto legislation that would do just this.

 

The Higher Ed, Lower Debt bill--authored by Senator Dave Hansen and Representative Cory Mason--would do the following:

  • Allow Wisconsin's student loan borrowers to deduct their student loan payments from their income tax, resulting in annual tax savings of approximately $172 for the typical borrower or as much as $392.

  • Enable Wisconsin's student loan borrowers to refinance their student loans at lower interest rates, putting potentially hundreds of dollars back in their pockets and into Wisconsin's economy annually.

  • Provide students and parents with detailed information about student loans, the best and worst private lenders, and ensure that students receive loan counseling so that Wisconsin's student loan borrowers can make informed financial decisions about student loans.

  • Ensure data is collected and tracked about student loan debt in Wisconsin to help policymakers and the public better understand the depth and breadth of the debt crisis in our state.

This proposal will go a long way in helping current and future student loan borrowers to realize significant savings. While savings under the bill will vary depending on an individual's debt load and the interest rates, student loan borrowers will now have the option to deduct student loans from their income tax and/or refinance their student loans. Both of these options are currently very challenging or impossible for many Wisconsinites under current law.


According to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the average borrower could see an income tax savings of approximately $172 under the Higher Ed, Lower Debt bill's income tax deduction. However, borrowers who are paying more per year in student loan payments would see tax savings up to $392 annually.

Additionally, depending on interest rates, borrowers and their families could take advantage of the ability to refinance their student loans and realize further savings. For example, a borrower with an interest rate of 6.8% and the average University of Wisconsin graduate's loan debt of $27,000 who could lower their interest rate to 4% could save over $40 per month. That would put nearly $500 back in their family's pocket over the course of a year.

 

As you can see, this legislation offers common sense solutions for real savings on behalf of Wisconsinites managing student loan debt. I hope legislative Republicans will see the economic value of moving forward with such a proposal. Therefore, I encourage them to join me in supporting the Higher Ed, Lower Debt bill. Wisconsinites cannot afford to wait any longer for more affordable college education and decreasing their debt burden.
 

 

Ghost Jobs Help Walker Reward Allies, Circumvent Taxpayers

It is almost Halloween, but it seems as though the governor's administration has been acting spooky all year long. So far this year, five state officials have been given substantial salary hikes, thanks to the Walker administration's creation of "ghost jobs" that has allowed state officials to undermine taxpayers and bypass the civil service system.
 

In February, the Capitol police chief was transferred on paper to a nonexistent position in the Department of Administration (DOA), which allowed him to receive a raise of $11,680 (11.7%) to $111,680 annually. He did not do any work related to the job he was transferred to and instead continued to perform his police duties. Within a few weeks, he was switched back on paper to his original position. Similar trickery was used to bump the pay of two DOA employees, as well as the deputy police chief at the Capitol.

 

Receiving the biggest increase of $14,416 (14.4%) to $114,917 annually was the state economist in charge of determining the accuracy of jobs data. According to an email chain obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, to achieve this increase, the economist first had to be transferred from the Department of Revenue (DOR) to DOA where his salary was increased to $100,501 annually. Then, he was given a raise in that department on paper so his salary could be increased to $107,705. Next, he was transferred to the Division of Enterprise Operations to achieve an even higher salary of $114,917 before being returned to his old position at DOR. This paper shuffle allowed the governor to reward his cronies by evading the policies in place intended to maintain integrity in our pay scale. The raise left this particular economist's pay 26% higher than another chief economist with a comparable job in a different state agency.
 

The Walker administration has argued that these raises reflect the strong performance of the employees. But the question is not whether or not these particular officials earned their raises. After all, there are many other state employees who have also performed their duties extraordinarily. Yet, many Wisconsin state workers received only a 1% pay raise in July, their first increase in four years after repeated furloughs and take home pay cuts. Other state workers represented by labor unions have not received any increase while they await state action. The system in place is meant to be applied fairly to all civil servants and it is unacceptable when a select few are loop-holed into double-digit pay raises.
 

Ironically, Walker's ghost jobs are lacking in the main quality that Halloween ghosts have--transparency.
 

 

Ask Chris

I often have neighbors contact me looking for my perspective on various local and state issues. I very much appreciate our neighbors' questions and want to dedicate a portion of my newsletter to common questions that I hear to maintain an open dialogue. Please continue reading for this week's question.

Q: What is the Legislature doing now to help Wisconsinites, especially those with disabilities, obtain employment?

A: With the fall session upon us, it is time for the Legislature to finally focus on jobs. Our national economy is showing strong growth, but Wisconsin still has a long road to recovery. As of this July, over 200,000 Wisconsinites still could not find work. T Thousands more are underemployed, and more yet have simply stopped looking. Wisconsin has plummeted from 11th to 37th in the nation in job growth under the Republican majority and unemployed workers have been given false hope with the promise of 250,000 jobs.

 

Wisconsinites with disabilities have been hit particularly hard by our lagging economy. Many have turned to the state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), which provides important job training and employment assistance services for individuals with disabilities looking for work. The DVR offers career guidance and counseling, job search and placement assistance, rehabilitation technology, job training, transportation, and more. Further, it has proven to be a worthy investment by providing a return of $2.10 for every $1 put into the program.

 


Unfortunately, the recent biennial budget fails to fully fund the DVR--leaving millions of federal tax dollars on the table rather than putting them to good use here in Wisconsin. Over 4,000 people with disabilities remain on the waiting list for DVR employment assistance, with some waiting up to four months. At the same time, employers are struggling to find well-trained, reliable, and qualified job applicants. By investing in DVR services, we can empower individuals and improve workplace opportunities for thousands of neighbors with disabilities.

 

About a month ago, Governor Walker introduced his latest jobs package. After three years of failure at WEDC and ignoring our state's jobs problem, I hope this means that Governor Walker and legislative Republicans are finally realizing that divisive policies and political games are not a winning strategy for creating jobs in Wisconsin. Democrats have been urging those on the other side of the aisle to adopt proven job creation methods, such as investing in current and future generations of Wisconsin workers through job training and education. We are encouraged to see that they are finally deciding to join us in focusing on job creation.

However, displaced workers should not celebrate just yet, since at least one of the proposals included in this jobs package was unanimously rejected by legislative Republicans earlier this session.

 

This legislation I am referring to--Senate Bill 274 and Assembly Bill 131--would solve the aforementioned problems at DVR by shortening the waiting list. Under this bill, Wisconsin will be able to take full advantage of federal incentives for the state's successful vocational rehabilitation program.

 

I have signed on as a co-sponsor to this legislation--authored by Democratic Sen. Jennifer Shilling and Democratic Rep. Katrinka Shankland--which has since received bipartisan support and the endorsement of advocacy groups including Disability Rights Wisconsin and the Board for People with Developmental Disabilities. My colleagues and I are pleased that these bills have received interest from both parties and hope Republicans will help move these bills through the legislative process quickly. By providing support to Wisconsin's DVR program, we can take an important step toward getting people back to work and help those with disabilities receive valuable job training services.
 

Given the track record and broken promises of Wisconsin's Republicans leaders, this is a time to be optimistic, but cautious. Too many families continue to struggle to find jobs and get back on their feet. For the sake of Wisconsin's future, I hope legislative Republicans remain focused on jobs and are not side-tracked by pursuing more divisive legislation or rewarding their special interest allies yet again.

 

This proposed legislation passed unanimously out of the Joint Committee on Finance, but has yet to pass the full Senate or Assembly.

 

 

Did You Know...?

You may know that the television series That '70s Show takes place in Wisconsin, but did you know that one of the show's lead actors--Kurtwood Smith--is originally from New Lisbon, Wisconsin?

 

That '70s Show is set in a fictional, suburban town named Point Place, Wisconsin, during the 1970s. The show ran for eight seasons and focused on the life of teenager Eric Foreman, his family, and his friends. 

 

Kurtwood Smith played the role of Red Foreman, who was the father of Eric and Laurie Foreman, and husband to Kitty Foreman. Red was a Navy combat veteran. Despite his usual mean exterior, Red occasionally displays a soft side.

 

In various episodes, That '70s Show also examined cultural traditions important to those of us that live in Wisconsin including: ice fishing, hunting, attending Packer games, and our love for beer and cheese.

 

 

Hoan Bridge Construction Beginning

This Monday, crews began preparing Milwaukee's Hoan Bridge for a two-year project that includes redecking and, unfortunately for commuters, closing off lanes during construction.

For the next two weeks, the state Department of Transportation (DOT) expects only minor inconveniences on the I-794 bridge, such as short-term ramp or lane restrictions, as workers make markings and prepare temporary ramps.

Major construction will start by the week of November 4. Lanes will close at this time. At least one lane of traffic will be open during the project and crews will try to keep two lanes open during peak times.

While the construction on the Hoan Bridge will last two years, it is part of a larger, five-year project involving work on I-794 bridges and the Lake Interchange. Further, the painting of the Hoan Bridge will take another two years after the construction work is finished.

 

Click here for more information from DOT about this project.

 

 

Halloween is Almost Here

Get your costumes ready because Halloween is creeping up on us. Trick-or-treating has been a popular Halloween tradition in the United States and other countries for nearly 100 years. This community-based ritual is one of the most highly anticipated holidays as it is an evening of fun, costumes, and candy that all ages can enjoy. This year, Halloween falls on a Thursday, so most trick-or-treating will take place the weekend prior on October 26 and 27.

Below are some tips to ensure a fun and safe trick-or- treating experience for you and your family:

  • Since Halloween is the one night where children are supposed to take candy from strangers, never allow children to eat candy before it is inspected for signs of tampering. If the wrapper is torn or looks suspicious caution on the side of safety and dispose of it.

  • Children of any age should be accompanied by a parent if possible. If not, be sure to set firm rules and require a child to carry a cell phone that can be used in the event of an emergency.

  • Plan out a route ahead of time to avoid obstacles and stay within familiar areas.

  • Be sure children stay on the sidewalks and cross the street at corners, using traffic signals and crosswalks. Parents should remind children to watch for cars that are turning or backing up.

Trick-or-Treating in Our Community
Many communities host their very own trick-or-treat event open to children and families. Continue reading for more information about such events in our community:

  • Bay View--Saturday, October 26 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

  • Milwaukee--Sunday, October 27 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

  • Cudahy--Sunday October 27 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

  • St. Francis--Sunday, October 27 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

  • Oak Creek--Sunday, October 27 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

  • Franklin--Sunday, October 27 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.

  • South Milwaukee--Thursday, October 31 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Click here for additional trick-or-treat opportunities in Milwaukee County communities.

 

 

Tips for Driving Safely this Winter

The weather is starting to change as we approach winter. Below is a list of safe winter driving tips to assist you in being mindful of the weather and roads:

  • Ensure your tires have the proper air pressure. Failure to maintain the correct air pressure can result in poor gas mileage, reduce tire life, affect vehicle handling, and increase your chance of being in an accident.

  • Pay extra close attention. Look ahead in traffic farther than you normally do, do not use cruise control in wintry conditions, and do not attempt to out-drive the conditions. Remember the posted speed limits are for dry pavement.

  • Use breaks carefully. Make sure you give yourself more time to stop and do not pump anti-lock breaks.

  • Clear snow and ice from all windows, lights, the hood and roof before driving. This will ensure you maintain proper visibility during your entire drive.

  • Know the current road conditions. Call 5-1-1 or CLICK HERE to log onto the winter road conditions report Web page for up-to-date information about the roads you will be traveling.

Click here for more information about weatherizing your car or staying safe on the roads this winter courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.
 

 

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Since 1981, the Violence Intervention Program has recognized October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The initial purpose was to bring awareness and help end violence against women and their children, but has since grown to encompass domestic violence of all kinds.


According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, one in four women and one in seven men will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Further, 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are physically assaulted by an intimate partner every year in the United States. Women between the ages of 20-24 are most at risk for nonfatal intimidate partner violence.
 

Children are greatly affected by domestic violence as well. Approximately 30% to 60% of batterers will also abuse children in the household. Being a victim or witnessing violence is the strongest risk factor for children to grow up and continue the cycle of violence. These children will also be more likely to suffer from emotional disorders, substance abuse, and have a higher dropout rate in school.
 

The city of Milwaukee's Common Council created the Milwaukee Commission on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault in 1979. It brought together a team of experts and community leaders to address the issues of family violence, sexual assault, and child abuse. Their purpose is to increase the safety of victims and hold the abusers accountable. They do this by working with organizations, the media, and the government to ensure the community is educated on the issues.
 

According to the Milwaukee's 2012 crime statistics, domestic violence incidents rose 48% in 2012. Domestic violence is also the most underreported crime in the nation. Roughly, only 25% of all physical assaults are reported to the police.
 

Domestic violence and abuse can happen to anyone, yet the problem is often overlooked, excused, or even denied. This is especially true when the abuse is psychological, rather than physical. Knowing and understanding the signs of an abusive relationship is the first step to ending it.
 

Click here for a list of signs of abuse provided by the federal government's Office on Women's Health. 
 

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, please consider using the following resources:

  • Impact 211--The Milwaukee area has a central assistance hotline, where a community resource specialist can be reached 24 hours each day by dialing 211. If calling from a cell or pay phone, please dial 1-866-211-3380 (toll free) instead. The 211 service can help with escaping a violent situation, finding alternative housing, dealing with legal proceedings, or finding counseling to help you and your family heal. Click here link for more information about Impact 211.  

  • National Domestic Violence Hotline--Hotline advocates are available for victims and anyone calling on their behalf to provide crisis intervention, safety planning, information, and referrals to agencies in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Assistance is available in English and Spanish with access to more than 170 languages through interpreter services. You can reach the hotline by dialing 1-800-799-SAFE. Click here for more information about this hotline.

  • Sojournor Family Peace Center--Offers a wide-range of services for domestic violence victims and their families including support groups, advocates to help understand legal proceedings, a restraining order clinic to start the process of obtaining this legal document, an emergency line, and a 37-bed emergency shelter for women and children. Call (414) 276-1911 to reach their main office or (414) 933-2722 to reach their Domestic Violence Hotline. Click here for more information about the Soujournor Family Peace Center.  

Awareness is growing, but we still have a lot of work before us to put an end to domestic violence.

 

 

Survey on K-12 Education Available

Investing in quality education is a shared Wisconsin value that many of us highly treasure. Our next generation of workers are in Wisconsin schools right now, and their success or failure will likely dictate whether Wisconsin will succeed or fail in the years to come.

 

As a result, the statewide expansion of the private voucher program and the reduction of state aid to the majority of our local public schools for the 2013-2014 school year have become increasingly hot topics. Therefore, I would like to hear your thoughts on K-12 education in Wisconsin. I have created an online survey to learn more about you and your perspective. Please take the time to fill it out. I look forward to hearing back from you on the important issue of K-12 education in Wisconsin.

 

Click here to take the K-12 Education Survey now.

 

 

Take the 2013-2014 Neighborhood Survey

I created a survey for the 2013-2014 Legislative Session asking about various issues that are important to our community and our state. The input of neighbors is greatly appreciated. My staff and I will be working hard to deliver as many surveys door to door as possible before winter arrives. In addition, I have also made this survey available online.

Click here to download and print a copy of this survey, which you can return to my office via mail, email, or fax upon completion.

Click here to save a stamp and take the survey online.

I look forward to hearing your views on these important issues!

 

 

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